ndsharma's blog

‘Call me Harsh’, RPG chief tells staff

Posted on: September 18, 2015

Whoever gave this headline in The Times of India had a wry sense of humour. Bosses are, by and large, perceived as ‘harsh’ by the employees everywhere. But the story here is not about the nature of the Boss, nor does it reflect the Boss’s candidness that he should be called harsh because he has been harsh in his treatment of the employees.

All that the story says is that the Chairman of the RPG Enterprises is named Harsh Goenka and he wants his 20,000 employees to address him as ‘Harsh’ and not ‘Mr Goenka’ or in any other honorific way. The objective is said to be introduction of a culture of informality between the employees and the Boss.

This is a concept imported from the United States. However, values of family and society in the United States are different from those in India. There no one looks at the daughter-in-law who addresses her mother-in-law as simply Helen or Carla. In India this is just inconceivable. In the US the same informal atmosphere prevails, by and large, in the office also where the Boss is simply Harry or Bobby.

In the tradition-bound India no one addresses any one older than oneself by his/her first name. He/she is either Chacha or Mami or Bhabhi or Bhai Saheb. We have plenty of words to describe even complex relationships, unlike English language. Then we have a unique word ‘Ji’. When one is not sure about the relationship, one can just add ‘Ji’ to the other’s name and the purpose is served: Mahendraji, Guptaji, Nehaji Subhadraji. The use of Saheb is also in vogue for males: Taneja Saheb, Khan Saheb, Rasheed Saheb. One has the freedom to use ‘Ji’ and ‘Saheb’ either with first name or with surname.

From such a strictly orthodox surroundings at home to a totally informal atmosphere in office is a long journey for an average Indian. Mostly it looks artificial. A new editor of my newspaper wanted the staff members to address him by his first name only, like Harsh Goenka. Having been brought up in a traditional family, I somehow could never reconcile to it and always added ‘Saheb’ to his name. Once I visited the headquarters (I have mostly worked away from the headquarters) and found it slightly funny seeing a 25-year-old female sub-editor addressing the 55-year-old editor by his first name. The same sub-editor, while talking to me, always addressed me as Sharma Saheb or Sir, though I was much nearer to her in both age and rank.

Besides, there is no evidence that mere introduction of such informality has led to better labour-management relations or greater productivity. That requires the overall attitude of the top Bosses.

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Value of propaganda

Adolf Hitler believed in the use of propaganda as an integral element to seizing and holding on to political power. His maxim was 'the bigger the lie, the more easily it will be believed, provided it is repeated vigorously and often enough'. (Sean Murphy in his book 'Letting the Side Down')

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